Gott's patrons eat on picnic tables under a huge "EAT" sign that was hoisted during the restaurant's 20th anniversary celebration.

Gott’s in St. Helena celebrated 20 years in business on Sept. 15 with a county fair-style tractor show, live music, soft-serve ice cream and 800 little apple pies.

What started when the Gott brothers bought the old Taylor’s Refresher in St. Helena on Sept. 24, 1999, has grown into a thriving brand with 350 employees and restaurants in Napa, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Walnut Creek, Greenbrae, and the San Francisco International Airport.

Joel Gott said he and his late brother Duncan had originally planned to open a produce stand at Taylor’s.

“I didn’t think the burger place would be that big of a deal,” he said. “But I think we opened up at the right time with the right menu, and it became a big deal.”

Business especially took off after Steve Carlin convinced them to move into the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

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“We cared more about food quality and the staff than prices or anything else,” Gott said. “We weren’t trying to win a pricing war. We were at the low end of the high end or the high end of the low end – something like that – so we hit a niche for people.”

The menu expanded, new locations popped up, and the Taylor’s Refresher name changed to Gott’s because of a legal dispute over the Taylor’s name – although the big Taylor’s Refresher sign remains outside the St. Helena restaurant.

“At the end of the day, what’s made the place work is food quality and treating employees like family and making it a good place to work,” Gott said. “Especially in today’s environment, it’s so hard to hire people. … We have health care and benefits for everybody, we pay really well, people tip really well here – all those little things add up.”

Over the next 20 years, Gott anticipates selling less beef and more plant-based protein.

“We’ll continue to evolve in terms of food trends, but physically it’s still that same walk up to the counter and sit at a picnic table.”

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